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Not on par: Going for the green
April 8, 2003
by Tresa McBee

The crisis continues. There's a war on.

Actually two. The war to gain women admittance into the exclusive, male-members-only Augusta National Golf Club. And that other war over in Iraq. Seems they're linked.

Martha Burk says so. Since last year, she's been leading the charge to get women admitted to Augusta, home of the prestigious Masters golf tournament. While women can and do play the course, they are currently not invited to join the wealthy, private club. Club folks say they can and should decide who joins a private organization. Burk et al insist Augusta's no-female-members policy discriminates, and the club is morally obligated to cast open its male-only doors, because it allows the public in during the Masters.

Thus, the two wars.

At a news conference last week outside City Hall in New York City, Burk drew parallels between servicewomen and their inability to join a club to play an expensive, time-intensive game.

"It's an insult to the 250,000 women serving in the United States military," Burk said, as reported in The New York Times. "It's appalling that the women who are willing to lay down their lives for democratic ideals should be shut out of this club."

Yes, she's serious.

While acknowledging that her group -- the National Council of Women's Organizations, which claims to represent more than 100, like-minded women's groups representing 6 million women -- risks "trivializing" its cause, Burk connected serving in the military to private-club membership, because servicewomen "had to face gender discrimination to get into the military."

Yeeeah. Leaving family, worrying about children, staying alive, making plans in case you don't -- those concerns surely pale when considered against the prospect that an Augusta membership won't be available to servicewomen once they're discharged.

In response to Augusta's criticism of Burk's approach, she bit back in the Times, saying, "Shame on the club for sticking to its policy of discrimination. They want to rationalize it in any way they can. Women can and are fighting for this country, and they can't get into the club. If they can't defend it, they attack me."

A cynical person would say Martha Burk is desperate to get her nonissue back on page two.

Count me in.

That Burk would reference American servicewomen in her zeal to undo a good-old-boy admittance policy is stunning in its arrogance and disconnectedness with real-world events and real-people issues.

While women -- and men -- are in harm's way this minute in the Middle East, while Pfc. Jessica Lynch and Pfc. Lori Piestewa are missing in action, while Spc. Shoshana Johnson is a prisoner of war in Iraq, while servicemen are likewise missing, captured or killed, Burk dares to compare U.S. servicewomen's duties and advances in the military to a membership policy that affects the tiniest portion of the wealthy. Gotta give Burk points for audacity.

I remain amazed that whether women are invited to join a private club has taken the time of the National Council of Women's Organizations, whose stated aims include tackling such topics as welfare reform, child care and social security. Others must also share that amazement. On its flyer for the Rally for Women's Equality, a protest set to take place at Augusta when the Masters begins, NCWO feels compelled to explain why it's not pursuing something more important. As NCWO states, it's already advocating for peace, poor women, equity pay, livable wages -- so opening up a wealthy club to women is merely one more blow against gender discrimination.

Sure. Once again: For whom does Martha Burk believe she's advocating?

Because I'll bet most of us are more concerned with the daily balancing and juggling. And when we come home at night, we see images of POWs, especially the terrified Spc. Shoshana Johnson with her huge eyes and crossed arms, and we hope they come home.

But don't worry about that, Martha. Board that bus for the Rally for Women's Equality and let Augusta have it. Focus on something that really matters.

© Northwest Arkansas Times. Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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